The French conductor
and, let it not be forgotten, composer, Paul Paray (1886-1979),
was Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1952
to 1963. He made a considerable number of recordings for the
Mercury label with the Detroit Symphony. Itís good to see some
of these now getting the SACD treatment.
Itís also worth
just reminding ourselves that the Mercury team believed in producing
as true a sound as possible; they eschewed the use of a multitude
of microphones. Thus, as the booklet informs us, a mere three
Telefunken microphones were employed. Well over forty years
later their brilliance, presence and natural sound continue
to impress. One would scarcely think that these recordings are
as old as they are. The sound is quite bright but itís far from
shrill and the microphones pick up an abundance of detail. Iíve
only listened in conventional CD format but Iíve been mightily
impressed with the sound and can imagine that those with SACD
facilities will find even more to savour.
Parayís is not,
perhaps the most subtle account of the Symphonie Fantastique
that one has heard, certainly not in comparison with any of
Sir Colin Davisís recordings. However, his approach is direct
and exciting. He leads a generally vigorous, rather urgent account
of the first movement. Personally I regret that he is disinclined
to linger. After all, Berliozís love-lorn hero was affected
by more than a touch of melancholy.
the ball scene as efficient rather than affectionate but the
music glistens nicely. The crucial harp part is in excellent
perspective. On the whole the pace is just a shade too brisk
for my taste but itís certainly exciting.
At the opening of
the third movement I was impressed by the fine cor anglais solo
and by the echoing oboe. This movement is very well played but
I didnít sense an excess of affection. Good though the performance
is, I find more sense of fantasy with Davis. Parayís country
scene is seen in the clear light of day rather than through
a heat haze. At the conclusion the ominous drum rolls are splendidly
reported, as is the plangent cor anglais.
The March to the
Scaffold is taken quite steadily, which I always like. In the
heat of the march the low brass snarl thrillingly while the
trumpets are bright and ringing. To my mind the opening of the
Witchesí Sabbath finale needs a slightly steadier tempo than
we hear from Paray. At his speed the music sounds a bit matter
of fact. The tolling bells are managed more successfully than
is the case on some recordings Iíve heard. As the momentum mounts
so too does the performance adrenalin. Superficially itís very
exciting indeed but in the last analysis the element of Gothic
horror and grotesque caricature just eludes Paray.
In summary this
is a good Symphonie Fantastique in which thereís much
to enjoy. It isnít a leading recommendation nowadays but itís
still well worth hearing.
The other items
are most enjoyable. The Hungarian March trips along jauntily.
Perhaps a touch more weight would have been welcome but Paray
builds the tension well as the piece unfolds. Thereís a good
amount of swagger in the Trojan March. I liked his account
of The Corsaire. The slower, quiet music immediately
after the surging opening is beautifully done. Here Paray conducts
with affection and establishes a lovely ambience. The main allegro
is done with great brio. To conclude weíre offered a Roman
Carnival overture in which thereís a satisfying degree of
here is far from negligible. However, this is one case where
the engineers deserve as much credit as the musicians.† The
work of the Mercury team of Wilma Cozart Fine, Robert Fine and
Harold Lawrence demands as much respect now as it did when the
recordings were first issued. Indeed, perhaps they deserve even
more respect today since these recordings have stood the test
of time admirably and need not fear comparison with the latest
digital issues. In a nice touch Mercury have retained the original
LP artwork and comprehensive notes.
Even though Paul
Parayís account of Symphonie Fantastique would not be
a first choice today it still has much to commend it. This is
a CD that Iíve enjoyed hearing and Iím sure it will give pleasure
to others - and not just to audiophiles.